I feel this article needed to be written. With so much scare mongering from what I call woo-woo people 😉 I wanted to help educate and inform people on the real information behind food additives and preservatives! and a little bit of food science!
First lets just summarize what food additives are for:
To improve the visual appeal of a product and or make it taste better
To extend the shelf life of a product
To assist in maintaining the nutrient content of the food and keep it safe to eat
To improve the nutritional content of a food for example cereals fortified with vitamin D
To aid in the processing and manufacturing of food for example emulsifiers to bind food together.
Here is an abstract taken from my course at body type nutrition full credit to them for the below part:
“food additives are substances added to foods to perform specific functions e.g. antioxidants, colour, flavour or preserve food. Additives may be natural, nature identical or artificial. Natural additives are substances found naturally in foodstuff. For example, beetroot juice with its bright colour can be used to colour other foods such as sweets.
Nature identical additives are man-made copies of substances that occur naturally. An example of this would be benzoic acid which is found in nature but also made synthetically to be used as a preservative.
Artificial additives are not naturally present in foods and are made synthetically. An example is azodicarbonamide, a flour improver that helps hold bread together.
All additives are thoroughly assessed for safety prior to being allowed to be used. Approved additives are given a number, and if considered safe for use within the European Union they are also given an E.”
Lets delve into a quick explanation of the additives:
Used in order to keep food safe to eat for longer. Pretty much any food with a long shelf life is likely to contain preservatives unless it has been preserved by another method such as jarring or canning or adding sugar, salt or vinegar such as jams, pickling etc.
Ascorbic acid sounds scary right? this is vitamin c and is one of the most commonly used antioxidants.
Antioxidants lower the risk of the fats and oils in the food combining with oxygen and discolouring or turning horrible.
As once rancid they taste and smell horrible. As well as once they are rancid they can be a risk to health.
Don’t be scared of ascorbic acid or antioxidants!
Colours are used to make food look more appealing and keep the colour as they lose it during processing (cooking etc) Colours are either natural like E100(curcumin/turmeric) nature identical or artificial.
Flavours and MSG!
Enhances flavor MSG(monosodium glutamate is an example) people say monosodium is bad, and MSG receives a lot of bad press, however these claims are unfounded. MSG can be used to add flavor to food and can even decrease sodium content in foods! Monosodium is the sodium of salt of glutamic acid. Glutamate is a naturally occurring amino acid that is found in nearly all foods, especially in high protein foods. Foods that are often used for their flavoring (tomatoes, and mushrooms etc) have high amounts of naturally occurring glutamate! The human body also produces glutamate which plays a role in normal body functioning. MSG added to foods adds flavor similar to the glutamate found naturally in foods!
Here is an extract from my study with BTN:
“Is monosodium glutamate linked to adverse reactions?
Despite a small number of persons reporting sensitivity to monosodium glutamate, scientific studies have not shown any direct link between monosodium glutamate and adverse reactions in humans. Monosodium glutamate used to be blamed for the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” because the first anecdotal report was made following consumption of a Chinese meal and monosodium glutamate is widely used in Asian cooking.
Symptoms said to be experienced included burning sensations along the back of the neck, chest tightness, nausea and sweating. However, a double-blind controlled challenge of individuals claiming to suffer from the “syndrome” failed to confirm monosodium glutamate as the causative agent. Other studies have found that allergic-type reactions after Asian meals are more often due to other ingredients such as shrimp, peanuts, spices and herbs.
Monosodium glutamate contains about one third of the sodium of table salt and is used in smaller amounts. When monosodium glutamate is used in combination with a small amount of table salt, it can help to reduce the total sodium in a recipe by 20 to 40% while maintaining flavour.”
To conclude MSG is one of the most researched food additives to date. Hundreds of studies and scientific evaluations have proved that MSG is safe and provides a useful flavour enhancer for foods.
Emulsifiers, stabilizers, gelling agents and thickeners
Stabilizers are used to stop the food separating. Gelling agents used to bind the food together. Thickeners are used to increase the viscosity of foods.
Sweeteners and aspartame!
Lets talk about low calorie sweeteners! I hate the scare mongering with aspartame lets delve into some truth and put the worry to ease!
First of all most questions raised comes from studies from lab rats. In the most often cited study lab rats where fed large doses of aspartame at 20mg per kilo per day for their entire life. They were shown to fall victims to cancer more often than their non aspartame counterparts.
When we translate this to humans, for example take a 60kg women this translates to 1.2grams of aspartame. Keeping in mind that a litre of diet coke cotnains around 540mg of aspartame. This 60kg small women would need to drink 2 litres of diet soda everyday for 3 years to get close to this figure. The number would be higher in larger adults too!
In the research reviews there is no link between Brain cancer, gastric, pancreatic or womb cancer. Another flaw is that in rats is not as simple to scale from a 400g rat to a 80kg human because of relative parts per million.
“Sweeteners have been the subject of extensive scientific research and approved as safe. Aspartame is kept under regular review by the EFSA and a ADI of 40mg/kg body weight has been set.
In the most recent review of evidence the EFSA concluded that aspartame and its breakdown products pose no risk to consumers at current levels of exposure. An adult would have to consume 36 cans of sugar free drink a day to reach the ADI.”
Stevia- Is from the chrysanthemum family. The sweetness of the plant is extracted from the leaves and comes from the steviol glucosides. It is approximately 200-300X sweeter than sugar and thus only small amounts are needed. It has deemed to be safe by various food standards agencies around the world!
Their is no official definition of a superfood. The EU has banned health claims on packaging unless supported by scientific evidence. The reason being when testing these foods the extracts and chemicals are tested which has higher concentrations than the food does in its natural state.
Take garlic as an example
it contains a nutrient alleged to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. However you would have to eat about 28 cloves of garlic to get close to get the benefits tested in a lab.
Food that have been labelled as superfoods in the recent years are normally because of their high omega 3 and antioxidant amounts.
To conclude on superfoods:
Placing too much emphasis on one or two foods may cause unbalanced eating. It is better to focus on eating a wide range of foods for optimal health. You cant undo the damage caused by an unhealthy diet and lifestyle by eating superfoods. However of cause these can and should be included as part of your overall diet.
I hope this article has educated you and helped lift any fears you may have often perpetrated by the media and advertising. If this has helped you feel free to leave a comment. As always feel free to email me also. I also offer full monthly nutritional and training remote coaching you can find this under packages! Have a great day!